Florence was the first Italian city that fulfilled all my expectations of what an Italian city should be! It has that unique feel of a small town that has gone large. The streets are still quaint, the buildings are beautiful and the people are Italian through and through. This makes it one of my favourite places in Italy to visit and a must on any Mediterranean itinerary.
For me, the sights of Florence are less obvious than those of other major Italian cities. The city is definitely better explored sporadically rather than in any particular type of order... But sometimes it's nice to have a plan, so here is how I did Florence this time around.
First on the list is the intriguing Basilica di San Lorenzo. More specifically, Michaelangelo's Cappelle Medici (Medici Chapels) and the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana (Laurentian Library). The Medici family were (and probably still are) the "it" family of this region a heap of years ago. They owned/own most of the major buildings in Florence or at least provided money for them to be built. This means that you can see the Medici family crest above entranceways, atop towers and painted into stained glass on almost every building in the city. The Medici family loved a bit of Michaelangelo so a visit to Basilica di San Lorenzo is one of the best ways to see some great examples of his architecture and sculpture. Even If you aren't an art fanatic, the Laurentian Library is a stunning example of what money can buy if you want to read in peace and a fantastic opportunity for you to experience some quiet reflection in a building that isn't strictly a house of religion. A few easy streets away and you will find our next jewel.
Il Duomo di Firenze is the central church if Florence. A building that is less immediately inspiring than its Milanese cousin, the Florentine Duomo sits delicately in front of a much smaller and much quieter square than Milan's Duomo. It is perhaps it's cosy locale that makes this beauty in pastel the perfect location to soak up the bustling city centre atmosphere. When you are admiring the beautiful Facade, don't forget to turn around and take a peek at Paradise Gate.
A warm day in Tuscany almost begs you to stroll across the River Arno (via Ponte Vecchio of course) for a visit to Palazzo Pitti and it's Giardino di Boboli. These sprawling greens are home to hills and valleys, mini museums, sculptures, garden beds, observatories, miniature forests and plenty of shaded grassy areas to relax upon. Some of the most amazing views can be obtained from this vantage point and if you make your way to the very back of the grounds to the porcelain museum, you are rewarded with sublime vistas of rolling Tuscan countryside. Bring a picnic lunch (as the vending machines provided are notoriously dodgy) and enjoy the majesty of this regal abode.
For art lovers, there are plenty of Museums brimming with notable artists and artworks. Most popular is Uffzi, who's gallery archive reads like an art world VIP list. Here you can find Botticelli, DaVinci and Carvaggio milling around with Raphael and Rembrandt. Make sure to get your tickets early because the lines get quite big. While you're there, don't pass up a trip to Piazza della Signoria where you can see a replica of Michaelangelo's David. If you want to see the real thing, round off the Florence trip with a stroll to Galleria dell'Accademia on any day that isn't a Monday!
As you can see, Florence is crammed with art, history and some of the most amazing food. It is easy trips like this that really confirm for me that Florence is definitely my favourite Italian city.